No matter how old they get, they still want Mum when they get sick. Today the Princess is laid low by an extremely vicious cold. She insisted on going to school yesterday, but this morning I overrode her objections and put her back in bed. Today I will be playing Flo Nightingale, fetching ice water and Benadryl, making easy-to-digest snackies, and just generally doing all those things mums (hopefully) do.
She’s eighteen this year. My God. I would say I feel old, but I actually just feel…grateful. She is an amazing human being, almost fully an adult, and if something happened to me tomorrow she’d make it in the world. She has the tools and the drive. (Not that I’m planning on exiting, I still have deadlines. Har har.) Which is really comforting, but the most comforting thing of all is that I did not do what I feared most–I seem to have avoided messing her–or her brother–up irreparably.
I had to build my parenting philosophy from the ground up, since I knew I didn’t want to do what had been done to me. It was hard. When you are working against the things acid-etched into you since childhood, it can seem insurmountable. I was forced to think very deeply about unspoken assumptions about parenting, about what exactly my responsibilities to tiny squalling bundles I’d calved were, and what rights I did and did not have to or over them. I did not like being beaten, threatened, emotionally abused, or terrified during my own childhood, I should not ever inflict that on anyone else. That’s pretty straightforward, but when you’re near a psychotic break from lack of sleep, suddenly responsible for a small thing that can’t feed, clothe, or wipe itself, and essentially abandoned in favor of drugs by the guy you married because everyone said you should–being knocked up and all–well, things get a little muddled.
I am extremely thankful they did not get muddled enough that I did what my childhood “caregivers” did. Instead, the first (and only) time I was tempted to commit a physical act of frustrated cruelty, I had one of the few incidents in my life I would outright call “religious”, where a voice I’d heard only twice before–both times warning and protecting me–spoke up in no uncertain terms, telling me to just walk away, shut the bedroom door, and let the baby cry for a few moments while I got a goddamn hold on myself. Whether it was simply my own conscience forced to radical neurological measures or a guardian spirit is academic, because the end effect was the same and I don’t give a damn anyway.
After that particular incident, I never again felt an overwhelming temptation to be an asshole to my kids. Sure, there were smaller moments of frustration, but those were normal and somewhat easily clamped down upon. I admitted to myself that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but as long as I remembered this tiny squalling bundle was a person, things would more than likely work out in the end.
They seem to have.
I hear a lot of bad shit about teenagers and parenting them. I hear it’s supposed to be a conflict-laden time, what with hormones and negotiating the passage into adulthood. Certainly my own teen years were a life-or-death struggle on my part, trying to preserve some psychic integrity and emotional wholeness in the face of overwhelming odds. I sometimes ask my kids, “So…are we supposed to fight, with you being a teenager and all?”
The Prince just widens his eyes and says “Let’s not, okay?” The Princess normally gives me a baffled look and says, “What on earth is there to fight about?” Or they come home after school and say some version of, “X was talking about their parents today, and oh my God I am so glad you’re my mother.”
Of course there have been times when they’ve thought I was crooooool and unjust. (Especially during their toddler years.) There have been periodic cases of them needing to bump their noses against a boundary or two just to make sure the safety net is still there and though things may be changing rapidly in their lives and bodies, Mum is still on watch and ready. There have been Consequences For Your Damn Actions, usually arrived at with input from the consequence-sufferer. (They often suggest much harsher punishments than I end up giving. But not always.)
In a way, I’m glad my own childhood forced me to consciously think about and decide what kind of parent I wanted to be. Not much of a silver lining, but there it is. The whole point of parenting is to get one’s offspring to reasonably ethical and compassionate adulthood, to a stage where they can take care of themselves and won’t be dickwads. I think a lot of people get so used to being The Authority in their children’s early years, they forget that the endpoint is a rational, independent adult. Consequently, when Being The Authority starts to take a backseat, they do what other challenged dictators do–tighten the iron fist.
And that rarely ends well.
So. I am reasonably confident that should Miss B succeed in putting me in my grave during a morning run, or if an airplane part falls out of the sky onto my head, both my spawn have a better-than-fighting chance of surviving in the harsh world. (Yes, my will is up-to-date. Just because I have no intention of shuffling off the mortal coil yet doesn’t mean I’m stupid or unaware.) I am also reasonably confident that when my children reach my age, I will not be such a toxic influence they have to cut off contact with me just to survive emotionally.
I am, finally, pretty sure that both of them know I love them more than anything else in my life or on earth, and that no matter how old they get, they can still count on me to bring ice water and Benadryl and smooth their foreheads and say, “it’s all right, baby bear. Mum is here.”
Even if I’ve accomplished nothing else, I can be proud when Ma’at weighs my heart at the end.
Over and out.